Spoiler-Free Review Of ‘Rogue One’ From A Geeky Fan
The Force is strong in first ‘Star Wars’ stand-alone anthology film
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Credit: LucasFilm Ltd.
Beth Accomando, arts reporter, KPBS News
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the first of the Star Wars standalone anthology films, and it made this geek girl grin from ear to ear (and each ear had a Death Star earring dangling from it).
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the first of the Star Wars standalone anthology films, and it made this geek girl grin from ear to ear (and each ear had a Death Star earring dangling from it). Spoiler-free review ahead.
Just a geeky fan
When I went to see “Rogue One” Monday morning, I did not go as a professional film critic but rather as the 16-year-old geeky fan that I am inside.
As I drove to the theater I felt my heart racing and my hands were just a little shaky. I was experiencing a mix of tension and excitement that was different from what I felt going to see J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” last year. When I went to see that sequel, it was more about trepidation and praying that he just wouldn’t screw it up.
"Force Awakens" vs. "Rogue One"
“The Force Awakens” was the healing film “Star Wars” fans needed to let us know that the Dark Times had ended.
After suffering through George Lucas’ digital clean up and enhancement of the original trilogy, and then his three prequels with Jar Jar Binks, we just needed to know that there could be a “Star Wars” film we could like without feeling embarrassed or without having to make excuses for. At the end of “The Force Awakens” it wasn’t love for the film that I felt as much as it was relief — relief that it wasn’t bad and that I had genuinely enjoyed it.
But it was by no means great and it ranked just about on par with “Return of the Jedi.”
But Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One” is the true fanboy film that this geek girl was waiting for. Abrams is no doubt a “Star Wars” fan, but Edwards is a true fanboy
When I saw both men at Star Wars Celebration last year, Abrams tried to convey his love for “Star Wars” but he never convinced me that he was the kind of fan that waited outside Toys R Us at midnight for a toy release or spent ridiculous amounts of time making a costume or setting up a Hoth diorama for Christmas.
Edwards, on the other hand, absolutely made me believe that not only was he a fan but he was a geeky fan like me. He showed photos of his 30th birthday when he went to Tunisia to visit the location where Uncle Owen’s scenes were shot, including a photo of him drinking blue milk because he brought blue dye with him. Now that’s a real fan. Let me put it this way, if Edwards had directed "The Force Awakens" Chewy would have given Leia a hug after Han died.
Expanding the 'Star Wars' universe
His “Rogue One” expands the “Star Wars’” universe in a highly satisfying manner. Its look and tone are a little different, a little darker, but it feels like a perfect companion piece to “A New Hope” and the subsequent “The Empire Strikes Back.”
“Rogue One” references the original trilogy but does so in a manner that feels organic rather than forced.
“The Force Awakens” felt a little like it had a checklist to go through of things it felt it needed to do to keep fans happy. “Rogue One” makes similar references just because it feels right at the time. So it drops in a familiar minor character when we least expect it but does so with a clever spin. Then there are familiar lines that we expect and wait for and wait for and just when we think we’re not going to get it, it’s delivered.
And for the real nerds, there are things like once again using an old Grass Valley Switcher for the buttons on the Death Star.
Edwards also knows the “Star Wars” universe and takes great joy in revisiting it with a bigger budget and even higher end visual effects that Lucas had on the first “Star Wars” film. Edwards’ uses the frame well to give us a real sense of scale on the Empire and what it’s building. His first reveals of an Imperial Cruiser, an AT-AT, and of the Death Star itself are breathtakingly fun. It’s fun for us as viewers because it seems to give him great pleasure as well.
For those who have not been following the “Star Wars” universe as closely as I have been, “Rogue One” comes just before “A New Hope” although it is not positioned as a prequel. The end of “Rogue One” could literally be cut into the beginning of “A New Hope,” and Edwards shows us how the tonal shift feels at that edit point.
Edwards explained at Star Wars Celebration last year that he wanted “Rogue One” to be a war film and that’s why he hired cinematographer Greig Fraser who had shot such gritty films as “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Killing Them Softly,” and “Foxcatcher.”
But this is a war film in the “Star Wars” universe. It’s not trying to be “Full Metal Jacket,” just a little grittier and dirtier and maybe just a touch more gray in tone than the other films in the franchise. The action sequences are often well-staged, especially when Yen's Chirrut Îmwe is involved. In scenes where characters are channeling the Force — even the dark side of it — the action is definitely impressive and fun.
Edwards helms this epic with more assurance and seeming personal touch than his previous outing on the recent American “Godzilla.” It seems to have taken him a little time or maybe just a project better suited to him to show some confidence. After all, he went straight from the half a million-dollar indie film “Monsters” to the $160 million budgeted “Godzilla.” That’s quite a leap. And the fact he fared as well as he did is impressive.
If you have not seen his earlier “Monsters,” I highly recommend checking it out. It serves up a refreshing take on the monster movie formula.
In terms of story, “Rogue One” can be easily be described in a sentence: The Rebellion decides to steal the plans for the Death Star in order to find the space station’s Achilles heel.
If you have seen "A New Hope," you essentially know how the story needs to end but you don't necessarily know the exact details. As with the previous “Star Wars” films we have a strong female character, this time Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a rebel in the making. She gets support from a diverse cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen (oh man does he get to kick some ass), Jiang Wen and Mads Mikkelsen. Although the plot is clear, the narrative is not as simply laid out as in “A New Hope” and its running time is slightly longer and feels it. That might be my only real complaint about the film. And the pair of CGI-created characters did give me a bit of that creepy uncanny valley feel — although the characters were well used and ultimately necessary.
Rebellions are built on hope
Although “Rogue One” wrapped shooting before the November election, Jyn’s speech about now being the time to fight and stand up for what you believe in couldn’t be more resonant or on the money. Take a listen to what she says about "condemning the galaxy to an eternity of submission."
I can see why Trump supporters felt the need to call for a boycott of the film and then had to manufacture a fake news story about “Rogue One” changing the ending to be anti-Trump in order to try and politicize the film and justify their outrage. But the irony is no one would have to change anything about the film to convey a message critical of the new president-elect because “Star Wars” from the first film has always been an allegory about fighting tyrannical leaders and repressive regimes. There is also a line about how a single fighter with a sharp stick (the Python fan in me is trying very hard to not say pointy stick) can cause a lot of trouble. Sorry, I did not take the usual critic notes during the film and write down the exact line, but I wanted to watch the film as a fan first. And that meant not looking away from the screen to jot down notes.
“Rogue One” (rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action) made me want to go home and immediately watch “A New Hope” and the pairing of the two was most satisfying. And my order of favorites is now "The Empire Strikes Back," A New Hope" and right on its heels "Rogue One" as my desert island "Star Wars" films. "Rogue One" left me feeling giddy with joy at seeing the “Star Wars” franchise expanded with such a genuine sense of affection and understanding for what made us fall in love with a galaxy far, far away.
Check out Cinema Junkie Podcast 53 all about geeky fan reactions to "The Force Awakens."
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